How can I best include outdoor MTB trail rides in my training plan?

Hi there, I’m looking for advice on how to modify a training plan to better fit my goals and lifestyle.

About me
I’m a new TrainerRoad user. I’ve been mountain biking for fun for the past 10 years without any structured training.

My goal is to be able to ride my mountain bike faster and longer, because I have fun riding my bike and I want to be able to do more of it. For example, currently my max mountain bike ride is 2 hours and around 1,250 feet of elevation gain. I want to be able to ride for 3+ hours and climb 2,500+ feet so that I can access more trails more frequently. No interest in racing in the near future.

I am also an experienced powerlifter. Currently I am powerlifting at a high volume 6 days/week and doing a 1 hour/week endurance ride on the trainer to maintain my fitness in the winter offseason.

Advice needed
Initially my plan was to begin a low volume sweet spot base program in February and reduce my powerlifting to 2 low-volume workouts per week in order to maintain strength until next winter.

However, I will be heading to California in February and will be able to mountain bike outdoors at least once per week! This presents a dilemma for me. If I stick with the training plan, the 3 indoor workouts will leave me feeling pretty fatigued and not feeling fresh for my outdoor ride. Since I only want to train indoors for the purpose of being able to have more fun on the bike outdoors, this doesn’t seem optimal. What would everyone recommend I do? Could I just do 1-2 sweet spot workouts per week and then ride outdoors for fun?


First off, welcome. Great community here that is happy to debate stuff and also disagree sometimes, which is very refreshing.

Second, yeah, you can definitely swap out an indoor ride for an outdoor ride. Many, many good ways to approach this.

personally i find that my mtb rides tend to be pretty strenuous. something about it that i end up trying to go fast and push it, whatever the terrain. So as a result, when i swap out a training session in favor of an MTB ride, i usually swap out a more taxing workout.

How often do you currently mountain bike? If we are talking once per week, plus one hour of endurance on the trainer, then you’ll probably see a lot of gains from doing two sweet spot workouts plus one outdoor ride per week. That is a good starting point, and you could work your way through the sweet spot base program doing that. If you feel up to it, do the Tuesday and weekend TrainerRoad rides, and swap the Thursday workout for the outdoor ride (but shuffle the days around as needed if you ride outside on the weekend).

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Yeah I was going to say switch out the Thursday workout for an outdoor ride.

If I was in CA in February, and not planning on doing any racing in the near future, I would ride the MTB outdoors as much as possible. Do the indoor interval stuff when the weather is lousy. Work on trail skills, have fun and enjoy the weather.

Try to increase the volume a little each week. Making sure you get one long ride in until you turn your 2 hour ride into 3 hours. Bring more food and water with you than you think you will need.

However, if I was training for a race, and had an annual training plan, I’d make sure to get some interval work in throughout the week. Still do a long MTB ride once a week though.

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I’ll piggyback on this thread as I have somewhat of a related “problem”. I’ll be completing my Century plan this month with my A-event last week of June. Then I basically have 3 weeks of vacation where I’ll incorporate some “general riding” into my family’s schedule. Following this I would like to do some XCO racing. My son is doing a local series and I thought it would be fun to join in on the madness. Years of sustained work has made my diesel engine fairly good, but I’m lacking the turbo needed for XCO. So for this brief 6 week period I would like to focus on riding the local trails, and getting some specific training done. I don’t have a power meter on my mtb and my local trails are not compatible with “zone 2 skillz training”. I do have some “gravel up, trail down” options but they do require threshold and above (mostly above) efforts. I have been following a mid volume plan so I can handle 4 intense days a week.

As I see it I basically have three options:

  1. 2xTrainNow + 2xFartlek on the trails. Depending on the TN wo I could do it by RPE on the mtb.
  2. LV Short Power build and substitute one of the scheduled wo’s with something similar + Fartlek
  3. LV XCO specialty and substitute one of the scheduled wo’s with something similar + Fartlek

For all options I would substitute one wo or fartlek with that week’s race. Consider all races C-races. I’m just doing them for fun, and to spend some time with my son.

I like following plans, but I’m leaning on option 1 here. Even if it’s just an experiment to see if I can stay consistent without a plan.

Thoughts, experiences?

Option 1 would be my choice as well but I’d just make sure that the sessions aren’t all VO2max/anaerobic ones - if the outdoor rides are intense then use the trainnow sessions for Z2 work.

Most of us aren’t pro riders and we don’t need to be on a training plan “all the time”.

That’s 2 too many.

I like 1. or 3.

Confused about the Fartlek? Are you trail running on top of this? If these are typical XC courses I’d be focusing on anaerobic workouts as you have a good base level fitness from all the road steady state stuff. I’d make my 2 (not 4!) high intensity days, with one being a fun training loop type of ride where you don’t focus on much beyond punching repeatedly. Aim for a similar duration as your races. Then I’d do another day with a focused TN anaerobic work out on that gravel road. Then roll easy on trails and focus on momentum preservation.

Put another way, the best mountain bike training is riding your mountain bike fast. I still like to plug in one focused TR workout a week, maybe two, depending on the course I’m targeting, and which energy system needs the most work. With 6 weeks out, you might as well sharpen your blade and work on skills. I think that will give you the best return on investment, and it’s also the most fun. Enjoy!

Thanks for the replies.

Should be seen in the light of TR “intense days”. MV basically has 4 days of intervals + 1 short endurance. I could still do 2 sweetspot + 2 high intensity which is similar to XCO Specialty for instance

Sorry for the confusion. I know it’s mostly used in running terms, but we also use it when we coach the kids in our club. It’s basically what you describe later in your post; a fun training loop (or course) where we use the terrain to “make intervals”. “Natural intervals” is also a common term. But it’s not structure.

I just feel I have the wrong blade :wink: Been wielding a Katana for so may years, while XCO is more of a Tanto style of racing (sorry for the Samurai references…)

Side note: for the last few years most of my mtb riding has been while coaching kids (now 12 years old). So it has been necessary to slow down my pace. This has improved my technique that I’ve PR’d on all of my local “downhill” segments. Typically 70%down/30% up/flat, i.e. no need for the punchiness I lack for XCO.

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Gotcha. I’m of the opinion that it’s still too many, but I don’t want to derail the conversation, especially since you’re experienced with MV plans and if it’s working for you, that’s what matters!

Well - I do think your long experience with steady state road training will only serve you well if you ever decide to focus on XC. That’s something that a lot of mountain bikers lack, and you’ll see that towards the end of the races when some of them fade quicker. You just need to spend some time working on accelerations and maintaining speed through corners and tech.

I spend a lot of time with my son and girlfriend on trails, and so I understand slowing down to go fast. I focus on my body positioning on those rides as it’s something I’m always trying to improve, and it’s much easier to do so when you’re not being pushed by your fast friends or own ego!

Thanks for getting your kids on bikes, it’s the future of our great sport!


Thanks! I’ll do as much as I can on the mtb and probably to some more structure on the road bike when needed. I did one XCO last year and did so many rookie mistakes since I was so fatigued from the accelerations it was almost embarrassing… Hopefully some more weeks of training with a good base will put me in a better position this year :slight_smile:


If you think of it in terms of Specialty Phase, what is more specific than actually working hard on trail segments that are similar to what you’ll encounter in a race?

I don’t think riding a fixed trainer is very specific to riding hard on mixed terrain that is found on most mtb course. Of course improved fitness will always help.


Let us know how it goes!

Will do!

This is really good advice. Even though mountain biking tends to have a lot of spikey/surgey efforts, have really strong aerobic base fitness will help you recover between those efforts and also help you be successful doing longer rides.

While Z2 isn’t the most exciting thing to do, they are less taxing and easily recovered from, which will help keep you legs fresh for the outdoor mountain bike rides. The benefit will add up over time as both your mitochondrial density and efficiency increase.